There is much to be said for self-publishing, especially if you have spent a year or ten (see Michael J. Sullivan below) trying to get publishing houses interested in your work.
If you self-publish and do a proper job of marketing, your book may not only achieve success in its own right but may be picked up by a major publishing house. (Ironically, it may even be published by one of the houses that has previously sent you a rejection slip.)
All of these books have one thing in common — their authors did not simply publish and then lean back and enjoy their success. They marketed, pitched, and sold the heck out of their books.
And they continued to write.
Here are a few best-selling books whose authors did not give up on them:
Eragon is a young adult fantasy series written by Christopher Paolini, who began writing it at the age of 15. Paolini’s parents published the book (they owned a small press), after which Paolini spent a year traveling around the United States promoting his novel.
The book was discovered by Carl Hiaasen, who got it re-published by Alfred A. Knopf. The re-published version was released on August 26, 2003. Eragon was an instant hit, selling over a million copies within the first five months. The series has sold 33.5 million copies worldwide.
Initially, Rombauer had 3,000 copies printed by A.C. Clayton, a company which had printed labels for St. Louis shoe companies and for Listerine, but never a book. In 1936, the book was picked up by a commercial printing house, the Bobbs-Merrill Company. Since then, over 18 million copies have been sold.
Rich Dad Poor Dad is a financial advice book written by American businessman, author, and investor Robert Kiyosaki. In keeping with Kiyosaki’s ideas that ownership of high-value assets that produce cash flow is the key to wealth, rather than being an employee, he self-published the book in 1997.
In spite of containing “much wrong advice, much bad advice, some dangerous advice, and virtually no good advice” (John T. Reed) Rich Dad Poor Dad has sold over 26 million copies.
With typical panache, the poet dedicated the aptly titled No Thanks to the fourteen publishing houses which had turned the collection down. Forsaking printing conventions — as well as those who employ them — No Thanks is bound at the top, like a stenographer’s pad, rather than on the left. The volume was later published by W.W. Norton and Company.
Marcel Proust’s epic novel Remembrance of Times Past (A la Recherche du Temps Perdu) has been called “the most respected novel of the twentieth century.” Proust began writing what ultimately became seven novels in 1909. As is so often the case with anything unconventional, the work was repeatedly rejected by publishing houses.
In one particularly devastating rejection, Alfred Humbolt, head of Ollendorf Publishing Company, wrote: “I may be as thick as two planks but I can’t understand how a gentleman can take thirty pages to describe how he tosses and turns in his bed before going off to sleep.” Rather than give up, Proust paid the Grasset Publishing House for the publication of the first volume, Swann’s Way. Since its original print run of 1000, millions of copies have been sold. Keeping up with the times (no pun intended), Remembrance of Times Past was turned into a comic book in 1998. Unlike the original novel, the graphic novel had no problem finding a publisher. (NYT)
One of the most beloved children’s books of all time, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was originally self-published by Beatrix Potter in 1901. After receiving rejection letters from publishers for a story she had made up to entertain a sick boy, Potter, a 35-year-old writer, and illustrator, took matters into her own hands and printed 250 copies of the book.
Within a year, it was picked up by one of the publishers that had turned it down, F. Warne & Co, which almost immediately sold 20,000 copies. However, Potter’s adventure with self-publishing did not stop there. When Warne insisted on cutting parts of the Tailor of Gloucester, Potter turned around and printed 500 copies herself. Over two million Beatrix Potter books are sold each year.
Wayne Dyer originally self-published his self-help book, Your Erroneous Zones, with a print run of 4,500 copies. He then spent the next year traveling across the country, publicizing his book on TV shows. (You could still do that in the 1970s.)
It eventually became one of the top-selling books of all time, with an estimated 35 million copies sold. The book spent 64 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Bolles self-published the book in 1970. Since then the book has seen almost yearly updates with more than 10 million copies sold. (Even I own a copy.)
He sold 100,000 copies of the novel out of the trunk of his Honda before Warner Books agreed to publish it.
In spite of drawing fire for its historical absurdities (Mayas in Peru, writing in Aramaic?), the book has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
After 10 years of rejections, Michael J. Sullivan quit writing altogether. Then, one day, he sat down and wrote the Riyria Revelation fantasy series. He still couldn’t find a publisher, so Sullivan self-published through Ridan Publishing, a company started by his wife. His sales were so impressive that he re-solicited mainstream publishers, and this time received several offers. The Riyria Revelations has now been translated into fourteen languages. In 2012 io9 named him one of the “Most Successful Self-Published Sci-Fi and Fantasy Authors.”